Since America’s formation, the meaning of the “American Dream” has changed vastly. One version of this prospect is shown in And Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel set in late 1800’s America. It follows Janie Starks, a mixed woman who is trying to find her own version of the American Dream. Janie attempts to pursue the American Dream by searching for true love and independence; even being set back due to race and gender, she ultimately achieves her goals.
Janie’s version of the American Dream is to be able to find a love in which she is able to freely and fully love someone. In the second chapter, Janie notices a bee pollinating a pear tree, and reacts to it with, “So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation.” She sees love as a mutual relationship in which both counterparts are able to put in equal effort and respect. This is further shown when she says in the next chapter, “But Nanny, Ah wants to want him sometimes. Ah don’t want him to do all de wantin’.” Her dream is finding a partner who she is on equal footing with, one who is able to see eye-to-eye with her and who loves her as a person.
Janie’s pursuit of the American Dream changes throughout the book. At first, she attempts to pursue it when, “Through pollinated air she saw a glorious being coming up the road. In her former blindness she had known him as shiftless Johnny Taylor, tall and lean. That was before the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes.” She is ignorant to the fact that love is more than just finding someone to give affection and expecting them to see her in the same light. Throughout Janie’s experiences with her first two husbands, her hope of experiencing her idea of love is diminished by her husbands’ controlling and degrading natures. However, her method of pursuit changes once again when she meets Tea Cake. In chapter twelve, Janie states, “Tea Cake love me in blue, so Ah wears it. Jody ain’t never in his life picked out no color for me. De world picked out black and white for mournin’, Joe didn’t. So Ah wasn’t wearin’ it for him. Ah was wearin’ it for de rest of y’all.” Tea Cake, in a metaphorical sense, shows Janie a world of colors. One in which she has found someone who truly loves her and that she truly loves back. Therefore, she pursues Tea Cake instead by running away from her old life and into a new life where she has someone who respects her for who she is and treats her as an equal.
Some obstacles Janie faces in her pursuit of the American dream is encountering those who degrade people based on gender and race. In chapter five, when townspeople are gossiping about Janie, they wonder, “Whut make her keep her head tied up lak some ole ‘oman round de store? Nobody couldn’t Bit me tuh tie no rag on mah head if Ah had hair lak dat. Maybe he make her do it.” Throughout Janie and Jody’s relationship, the author makes it clear that Jody expects her to be silent and obedient due to her being a woman. The fact that he makes her tie up her hair is reminiscent of this fact, as her tying up her hair symbolizes her loss of freedom due to Jody’s desire to keep up her respectful and proper image as a woman. Also, Janie experiences blunt racism from Mrs. Tucker, a white woman who expresses her contempt for African-Americans with, “Ah jus’ couldn’t see mahself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up de race.” She then goes on to say Janie should marry her light-skinned brother due to Janie’s Caucasian features. This personally affects Janie not only because it insults her partially African-American heritage, but also because her husband, Tea Cake, is significantly more dark-skinned, and Mrs. Tucker’s words are a direct insult to him. These obstacles serve as a representation of something all women and people of color experienced at the time.
Janie succeeds in finding the American Dream in the sense she finds true love and eventual peace in independence. At the end of chapter thirteen, Janie realizes she has found happiness in love with, “He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.” She is finally able to open herself up to Tea Cake and love him, as he doesn’t make her stand beneath her, but stands beside her as a partner. This is what Janie dreamt of for so long, a relationship in which mutual respect and effort was given. This is where Janie finds her independence as well, in a partner that allowed her to be herself. She is also able to find joy in her independence at the end of the book. The final chapter states, “The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace.” Janie is at peace even after Tea Cake’s passing due to the fact she was able to successfully find her own version of the American Dream, which was her ability to express herself with Tea Cake, and truly and fully love him.
While it is a long and grueling process, Janie finds her own version of true love and independence. This truly expresses the idea of the American Dream by showing that despite major setbacks someone might experience, it is still possible to push through struggles to a brighter future. This serves as a reminder to we Americans that we are able to do the exact same—that the true American Dream is the ability to make a life for yourself, and to be yourself while doing so.
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